Guns of Banaras, Review: Where are the bullets?
When Nathalia Kaur, who was born Nathalia Pinheiro Felipe Martins, in Brazil, appears in the credit titles as the lead actress in probably her first Hindi heroine assignment, and Karann Nathh, son of producer and star-secretary ‘Rikku’ Rakeshnath, 37, who had worked in Yeh Dil Aashiqana, Ssshhh… and Tera Kya Hoga Johnny, makes a come-back after 12 years, your curiosity is aroused. It is further fuelled by the belief that this must be Vinod Khanna last screen appearance, as the film was, earlier, to release three years ago, around his death. Add to that the fact that Guns of Banaras is a remake of the Tamil film Polladhavan (2007), starring Dhanush, and you are almost excited. Now imagine how you feel when all the Guns of Banaras shoot are rubber bullets!
Banaras or Varanasi or Kashi is a holy city in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The ‘guns’ in the title refers to the actors who lead violent lives, most by choice, and the lead actor, by circumstance. Guddu Singh is a loafer who idles away his time hitching rides on motor-cycles and hanging out with a trio of good-for-nothing fellas. His father runs some kind of book-shop and delivers ordered books to customers, on his rickety old bicycle. Guddu has a younger sister and a doting mother. One day, his father feels he has had enough of his wastrel son and he hands over all his life’s savings to him, asking him to go his own way. Guddu uses all this money to buy…what else?…a motorcycle. This infuriates his mother, but his father couldn’t care less.
With the help of a degree and the bike to boot, he lands a job in a bank, in their loan recovery department. Meanwhile, he falls head over heels in love with Hema, a local beauty. Though she responds, and they meet quite often, he is unable to express his real feelings. Unfortunately, he crosses the path of Vikram Singh, younger brother of a local Mafioso, and the two get into a fight. Guddu manages to beat-up Vikram and his henchmen, a humiliation that Vikram is unable to live down. His brother, who runs a crime and enforcement syndicate, warns him not to target the innocent public, but he agrees to take him under his tutelage, on the suggestion of his Maharashtrian wife, whom he had married while on a criminal mission in Mumbai, and of the politician, Triloki, who is his mentor. Vikram pretends to have given up his vengeful streak, but secretly vows to eliminate Guddu and his entire family.
You would be hard-pressed to find anything new or fresh in the subject, which had already been rehashed several times by 2013-14, when the film started, six years after the Tamil original. In the six years since then, it has been re-re-re-hashed umpteen times. Wonder what the producers saw in it, I see nothing that could invite a remake, unless, of course, the remake has taken a lot of ‘creative’ liberties that have worked against the film. The story is credited to Vetrimaaran, who directed the original in 2007, Polladhavan. Vetrimaaran also made Kaakka Muttai (comedy) and Visaaranai (crime thriller). Names of the Hindi language screenplay and dialogue writers are not available at the time of uploading this review, but they must take the blame for the smattering of expletives that have had to be muted to get a UA censor certificate. Wonder how love-making scenes have been allowed, though. In fact, even as it stands, with UA, mutes, modifications and excisions, it should have got an A certificate, considering the blood and gore alone. Then, the expletives could all have been retained. After all, we are a democracy, and creative liberty includes the right to use foul language, especially when the persons mouthing cuss words are from the underworld.
Why Guddu is such a louse is never explained, and there is no back story either. He is played by a 37 year-old actor and it is suggested that he might be in his mid to late twenties. That’s okay, so long as he looks the age. He does not. Guns of Banaras is one film where you could edit out the entire role of the heroine and make no difference to the narrative at all. You could as well edit out the roles of her parents. Yes, the songs would have to go too, but who’s complaining? For once, the corruption in the police force is somewhat offset by some devoted officials, who are out there to do a job. Sameer Anjaan has had to write lyrics to the Tamil metre, while Sohail Sen has probably retained the original tunes and beats, and this time at least, both departments are just not working.
Karann Nathh sports a look that can best be described as a mixture of perplexed and piqued, and has to do little except seethe in anger, if we subtract the romantic track and the handful of scenes with his buddies and at the motor-cycle show-room. There is a lot of fighting, to be fair, both hand-to-hand and with swords (Sham Kaushal in his firm territory acquits himself reasonably), where Guddu gets transformed into a superman, sans rationale. Vikram makes as many as three similar plans to wipe-out his nemesis, and the results are more or less similar too, as is the sense of déjà vu. In one scene, Karann apparently forgets the dialogue and fumbles, but the take has been retained. Face-wise too, Karann does not strike you as a show-stopper, rather a rugged son-of-the-soil.
Nathalia Kaur remains a mystery. Whether she is half Punjabi or quarter is irrelevant. That she can mouth Hindi, with at least enough lip sync to get it dubbed, is a marvel for her Brazilian upbringing. A swimsuit model, she is made to wear clothes that reveal nothing at all. What a waste of resources, some might sigh! Vinod Khanna can manage the idealistic toiler father’s role well-enough, but he was never known for tear-jerkers. It is sad to see him as a weak victim who has a couple of chances of showing his true grit. Zarina Wahab hams, but within herself, and her dialogue delivery is clear.
Abhimanyu Singh as Vikram’s brother does not quite look the enforcer he plays, making-up for his physical short-coming with his spirited diction and demeanour. Ganesh Venkatraman as Vikram Singh reportedly enjoyed great camaraderie with Karann during the shooting, so much so that the director had to tell him to back-off, because, “We are not making Dostana (friendship). You are his sworn enemy, and not his bosom pal.” With a name like Ganesh Venkatraman, his Hindi is very good and he makes a good budding hoodlum, but some of the words he has to utter sound unintentionally funny, particularly the swearing.
Shilpa Shirodkar Ranjit (Return of Jewel Thief, Mrityudand, Gaja Gamini) is another come-back story as Vikram’s sister-in-law, and has a meaty enough role. Now really plump, she fits the bill as the Marathi-speaking wife of a Banarasi Don. Mohan Agashe as Triloki is as type-cast as you can get, though he is too good an actor to mess it up. Tej Sapru (Sirf Tum, Mohra, Gupt), Karann’s maternal uncle in real-life, is cast as Hema’s father, a distant departure from the negative characters he played in his younger days. Also in the cast are Salim Baig, Akash Sinha, Ashok Pathak and Tanvi Rao.
Cinematography KK Rao tries unusual angles, usually for the sake of trying to be different, but some reverse angles are well-matched. Incidentally, be gets to shoot some footage in Bangkok, though God alone knows what the need was to shoot anything there, even escapist songs. Editing by Bunty Negi is often frenetic, like some of the fights, but the patterns soon become familiar
Directed by Shekkhar Suri (Adrustam, A Film by Aravind, Three, and Aravind 2), Guns of Banaras will not be a highlight in his CV. Using voice-overs of the two confrontationists seems more a show of ill-deserved pomp than any story-telling necessity. The movie might have suffered from getting dated and not finding distributors to invest in it, for several years. Singer-producer-distributor Anup Jalota, of AJ Media, is the investor, who needs all the luck to recover the millions that went in to bring Guns of Banaras to cinema-halls. It needed real screen-writing bullets, not rubber pellets, to attract audiences to theatres. Guns of Banaras is low even on pellets and the narrative chamber is usually empty, while the swords of sharp direction are often blunt. It earns the rating it does, getting there by the very skin of its teeth.